Les Turner ALS Foundation Celebrates Nearly $700,000 Raised at Annual Gala

The Les Turner ALS Foundation, a 30+ year philanthropic partner of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, held its annual “Hope Through Caring” Gala on February 25 at the Loews Hotel Chicago. This year’s sold-out event of over 500 people raised nearly $700,000 to support the Foundation’s mission to fund and advance scientific research in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and provide care for those who suffer from ALS, their families, and their caregivers.

The Foundation is named for Les Turner, who was diagnosed with ALS in 1976, an era when little was understood about the disease and patient resources were nearly nonexistent. In 1977, Mr. Turner, along with close family and friends, formed the Foundation, proclaiming that no one should have to go through ALS alone.

“I can tell you that no one had any idea that the Foundation would turn into what it is today,” said Alan Turner, Les Turner’s son. “Now, 40 years later, the Les Turner ALS Foundation has helped thousands of families and has funded over $50 million in research and clinical care at Northwestern.”

Ken Hoffman, Hope Through Caring Award Recipient, and Andrea Pauls Backman, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

At the gala, the 2017 “Hope Through Caring” award was presented to Les Turner ALS Foundation board president Ken Hoffman, a visionary leader committed to ensuring that someday in the near future we will live in a world free from ALS. This award was established in 1988 to honor those who have worked with the Foundation to help raise funds for ALS research, provide services for patients and families, and increase public awareness. 

“Throughout the years, Ken has deepened his commitment to our organization, first as a volunteer, then board member, and now board president, all the while bringing innovative ideas and forging new partnerships that allow us to make a greater impact in the ALS community,” said Andrea Pauls Backman, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

Patients played an important role in the evening’s program. Matt Toole, a husband and father of two who is living with ALS, spoke of the critical role the Foundation plays in their family’s journey with the disease. In addition, a special video presentation paid tribute to John Rooney, a Beverly resident who passed away from ALS last summer at the age of 56.

Click here to watch the video shared at the gala featuring John Rooney’s family.

Philanthropic Partners for Good

The storied history between the Les Turner ALS Foundation and Feinberg dates back to 1986 when the Les Turner ALS Foundation established the Lois Insolia ALS Clinic. To this day, the clinic offers total care and support for people with ALS through a multidisciplinary team of neurologists, pulmonologists, and other experts. Over the years, the Foundation has continually invested in Northwestern’s ALS research, care, and outreach. In 2014, the Foundation made a leadership commitment of $10 million to help establish the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center at Northwestern Medicine, further solidifying this steadfast partnership.

Established to increase collaboration among Northwestern’s ALS research laboratories and the Lois Insolia ALS Clinic, the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center offers an extraordinary opportunity to enhance today’s care and propel scientific knowledge that can lead to future treatments for ALS. The Foundation continues to partner with Northwestern to raise $10 million to endow the Center in perpetuity.

Alan Krensky, MD, speaks about the partnership between the Les Turner ALS Foundation and Northwestern Medicine.

“Through its fundraising efforts, the Les Turner ALS Foundation has supported laboratories at Northwestern that have made substantial breakthroughs in the field, including the discovery of the first ALS gene,” said Dimitri Krainc, MD, PhD, chair of the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurological Sciences, director of the Center for Rare Neurological Diseases, and the Aaron Montgomery Ward Professor at Feinberg. “With the establishment of the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center at Northwestern Medicine, our goal is to connect with other centers and research groups across the country and world to establish a collaborative network of scientists and clinicians with a singular focus of finding a cure for this devastating disorder.”

“We take pride in our relationship with the Les Turner ALS Foundation,” said Alan Krensky, MD, vice dean for Development and Alumni Relations and executive for Development at Northwestern Medicine. “Our partnership gets stronger every day, and every day we get closer to a cure. The Foundation and all those who support it have a profound impact on this important work.”

Click here to learn more about the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

Cutting-Edge ALS Research at Northwestern

ALS is a rapidly progressive neuromuscular disease that attacks a person’s muscles, gradually robbing them of their ability to walk, speak, eat, and breathe, yet, the individual’s mind is usually left intact. Every 90 minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with ALS, and every 90 minutes someone with ALS dies. While some symptoms are treatable, there is currently no prevention or cure for ALS.

Through the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center at Northwestern Medicine, a cadre of top-notch physician-scientists is working tirelessly to discover new avenues of understanding in ALS. The work of this gifted group thrives within three research laboratories run by leaders in the field: Teepu Siddique, MD, the Les Turner ALS Foundation/Herbert C. Wenske Professor; Pembe Hande Ozdinler, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology; and Evangelos Kiskinis, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology and Physiology. These experts and their teams bring us ever closer to answers.

Recently, Dr. Ozdinler published a review in Nature Reviews Neurology in which she outlines how recent discoveries support a new understanding of the mechanisms underlying ALS: that the loss of upper motor neurons in the cortex is critical for disease pathology, and may be essential to developing better diagnostic tools and treatments for ALS. This is contrary to the long-held belief that the death of motor neurons in the spinal cord was believed to be the driving mechanism in ALS pathology.

To learn more about supporting the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center at Northwestern Medicine, please contact Lauren Pedi at lauren.pedi@northwestern.edu or 312-503-4635, or click here to make your gift online.

“I can tell you that no one had any idea that the Foundation would turn into what it is today. Now, 40 years later, the Les Turner ALS Foundation has helped thousands of families and has funded over $50 million in research and clinical care at Northwestern.”

- Alan Turner